Linux, open source driving smartphone revolution

It's nice to see open source software driving a revolution in smartphones -- and small PCs.Google's Linux-based Android operating system powers the industry's latest must have, the Motorola Droid.

It's nice to see open source software driving a revolution in smartphones -- and small PCs.

Google's Linux-based Android operating system powers the industry's latest must have, the Motorola Droid. Many more Android phones are making their debut, such as Motorola's Backflip, which will be sold by AT&T it was announced at the Mobile World Congress this week. Apple must be thrilled.

I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge that Apple jumpstarted the excitement in the smartphone category with the launch of iPhone. But we have seen a sea change in the industry since Android launched in 2008.

In early 2009, Palm abandoned its proprietary Palm OS and Microsoft Windows Mobile bundling efforts and launched a new webOS platform based on Linux.

Nokia's very recent and (some might say) long delayed decision to open source its leading Symbian OS, and also to merge its other Maemo mobile platform with Intel's Moblin to create a Linux-based MeeGo platform were no doubt precipitated by the success of Android.

It shouldn't come as a surprise. Developers have been clamoring for years for proprietary smartphone vendors to open up their code and give them room to innovate and differentiate their offerings.

Proprietary smartphone OS companies -- including Microsoft -- still control more than 90 percent market share today but Linux rivals are catching up fast.

In the third quarter of 2009, Nokia's closed source Symbian owned about 45 percent market share, while RIM owned about 20 percent, Apple's iPhone garnered roughly 18 percent and Microsoft held about nine percent market share, according to research group Canalys.

But it's interesting to note that Google's Android's share lept to 3.5 percent from 2.8 percent in just half a year, the research firm found. Android's share was less than 3 percent when its first quarter 2009 results were announced.

Canalys' third quarter of 2009 research shows that "other" open source platforms -- including various Linux platforms and Palm's WebOS -- together garner about 3.2 percent share. (Palm's WebOS, Google's Android, and Nokia's Maemo are based on Linux).

So that gives the overall open source Linux industry almost 7 percent share, and it's grown since then.

Considering that it took Microsoft more than a decade to amass less than 10 percent share of the smartphone OS market, the numbers are looking positive for recent Linux entrants out of the gate.

It will be interesting to see how Apple and the two leading smartphone platform providers in the enterprise-business space -- RIM and Microsoft -- react to these unfolding events. If it's anything like what's happening in the browser market, those proprietary vendors would be well served by open sourcing at least some of their code.

After all, the smartphone is becoming everyone's second or third PC. Isn't it? I have a full featured laptop, a netbook, and a Droid, and I'm not alone.

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